People in my beloved New York City just held a die-in rally to protest the rise in bike rider deaths there. I rode there most recently in April, and, as usual, I tend to have good experiences (and am frankly blown away by how much better it has gotten than when I lived there— see my book, Traveling at the Speed of Bike, for more on that, if interested). However, I get to plan my routes with safety in mind, and there are options and techniques I can choose to minimize known dangers, and I know these are privileges to me as a tourist. (This didn’t save the eight tourists on bikes collectively mowed down on the Hudson River Greenway, however, so it’s not a foolproof method.) The scary part? It takes one open taxi door, or one oversized truck (or in a case this week, one police officer ramming his motor vehicle into you) to take you out. This little cross-town ride (pictured) after I helped with a bike class on Avenue D* was not one of the more enjoyable ones.
My Twitter feed is filled with stories nationwide of bike riders almost getting killed (or, increasingly, actually getting killed) daily. We know why. Our cities are not built to provide safe access in our public spaces know as streets, plus SUVs are designed to kill people they hit (perhaps not intentionally but it’s the fact, and the car companies have known it for years). Our city leaders continue to roll out plans to improve access but these take years, involve constant fights, are never appropriately funded (especially considering ongoing maintenance), and frankly, never really get done in a cohesive, connected way that makes a measurable difference.
Our national, statewide, and local governments claim to provide for the health and welfare of their citizens. At what point do we mount class action suits about the failure to provide safe multimodal transportation access? At what point do we get to stop having die-ins and start living again?
* major shout-out to fellow League Cycling Instructor Courtney Williams of The Brown Bike Girl in NYC, in whose class I assisted (pictured). She is absolutely knocking it out of the park for bike education, especially in marginalized communities.